Monzo: a case study in the ups and downs of being open

I am – as I suspect you know if you are reading this – an advocate of working in the open. It is the topic I am most passionate about and a practice I try to bring to every corner of my working life.

It isn’t without risks though.

In the last week or so I have watched the openness of Monzo land them at different ends of the praise/shit storm continuum.

For the record I am a fan of Monzo. I went – as they say – #fullmonzo last year. In fact I went from someone who did zero online banking (in fact not even phone banking), still went to his branch, hell still had a chequebook to someone whose entire financial life now lives in a phone in his pocket.

I also have friends who work there and generally have admired their approach.

A few days ago this article about their interview process for ‘product designers’ came to the attention – and got a pretty serious kicking from – (so-called) ‘Design Twitter’. For the record I do think Monzo have got this wrong. This kind of multi-stage, homework including interview process is already roundly despised in developer circles so doing it for design is a bad mis-step. It is discriminatory against just about anybody for whom work isn’t their entire life (and basically anybody over 30) but in particular women, people with illnesses, anybody with caring responsibilities, people who might have to hold down two jobs for whatever reason and a host of other reasons or responsibilities beyond their day job. For such a user-centric culture they’ve got the power dynamic misaligned here.  Now I understand that hiring is hard and interviews are flawed and different models are needed but this wasn’t great. Still if they hadn’t been so open about it would it really have blown up on them in the way it did? Unlikely.

Then within days there was a new flurry of tweets – this time of interest to  Content Design Twitter – when Monzo updated their ‘Tone of Voice‘ guidance including a new approach to inclusive language. This was roundly praised and is likely to soon be imitated by all sorts of organisations and businesses (and if history is any pointer – other banks.) Now this is a great, timely resource and is well thought through, nicely presented and widely helpful. There is also absolutely no compelling reason for it to be out in the open other than that is a principle of the company.

Swing meet roundabout.

There was also a little piece about Monzo in the latest Wired(UK) which was highlighting the company culture including their commitment to openness. I do wonder/fear if – like other open organisations before them – the negatives will come to outweigh the positives of that approach as they scale and reach for new markets (i.e. the US) and they start to see the working in the open as a distraction rather than a USP.

I hope that doesn’t happen – if for no other reason if I ever do write my ‘working in the open’ book they will make a great case study 🙂